US President Donald Trump is abusing long-standing norms for ethical behavior and his conflicts of interest put the country at risk of being seen as a “kleptocracy,” according to the former head of the US government’s ethics watchdog agency.
Walter Shaub, who quit this month as director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), said Monday the White House faces an “ethics crisis” due to Trump’s business ties. “His actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency,” Shaub told the Guardian. “The fact that we’re having to ask questions about whether he’s intentionally using the presidency for profit is bad enough because the appearance itself undermines confidence in government.”
“It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy,” said Shaub, who left the OGE nearly six months before his five-year term was due to finish and is now a senior director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization which advocates for ethics reform. Shaub condemned Trump for using his hotels and other properties for government business in what is in effect a “free advertising” campaign.
Trump’s intertwined business and political interests, while not violating any laws, mark such a break from past norms that there is an “ethics crisis” in Washington, he added. On Saturday, the president dined at the Trump International Hotel, which is situated halfway between the White House and the US Capitol in the government-owned Old Post Office building, for which Trump signed a 60-year lease in 2013.
“It’s wildly inappropriate for him to be running a hotel that he’s leasing from the federal government. As a president, you shouldn’t be doing business with the United States government. He’s his own landlord at this point,” Shaub said.
The Trump family has also been accused of benefiting from nepotism. The president has come under a furious backlash from political opponents and ethics experts for placing his children in positions of power. Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, as well as her husband, Jared Kushner, are both unpaid advisers at the White House.